Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Challenging the Status Quo

A few years ago I happily discovered that I share a birthday with Dr. Suess. If you don't know who Dr. Suess is (apparently he's not so well known outside of the US) please do yourself a favor and google him then read some of his witty, creative, and colorful children's books (my favorite is the Lorax). In light of Dr. Suess and my recent obsession with his quotes here is a particularly good one that was shared with me (also from the Lorax): 

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.

I liked this quote so much that I made the bold move to throw it in a recent PhD application essay. We'll see how that turns out for me... But either way it got me to thinking. The more I learn, the more I realize how ridiculously complicated everything in this world is. I find myself wishing I could place myself on one of two spectrums: blissfully ignorant or passionately idealistic. I think I used to fall into the latter category and now I want to jump back into my passionate idealism. While I'm grateful to have a much much better understanding of the complexities surrounding the world's problems and ultimately human behaviour, I also don't want this knowledge to make me apathetic and cynical. Because I do believe that the first step is simply caring, "a whole awful lot". 

The intricacies of our political and economic system and the unfortunate intertwining of the two, can leave any informed person exhausted and depressed at the complexity and simply seemingly hopeless situation. There are times when I just want to shut out the world around me with its hunger, disease, corruption, greed, and sadness and just climb to a mountain, build a hut and stay there in my own little world pretending everything is perfect. But here's the thing: even though I complain about the US and feel utterly overwhelmed when thinking how anything will ever change in my country, and even though I find myself super cynical and skeptical of most development assistance and white people going over to help "poor Africans" when I really think about injustice and how often the US has promoted some of this injustice or when I think about innocent people dying, or when I think about how through some of the simple actions I take every day I am inadvertently destroying our beautiful world; I can't help but care A LOT. And even though my education has perhaps aided in making me cynical it has also shown me that perhaps I CAN do something. 

Ultimately, I'm sick of having conversations about the world's problems and ending with well maybe someday it will change but this is the system we're just stuck in. Perhaps that is our problem today. When I think about history and the change-makers they were people who didn't accept things the way they are even if that was easier and safer, instead they were people who rejected the status quo. I've never been one to strictly follow the status quo and prefer to charge ahead and forge my own path, but I want to take this stubbornness (as people close to me call it) a step further and really challenge the status quo. So instead of complaining about how people don't bike in the US, I am just going to start biking wherever I end up next (whether or not it's in the US) as much as it is in my power to do so. Biking works in the Netherlands for many reasons but a big part of the success of biking is because there is simply a critical mass of people who bike. Forming a critical mass of support for anything is ultimately what can create change. 

Religiously taking up biking may not be a big step and I have plans to try and do more in other areas that make my blood boil in frustration, but whatever I do, I'm going to continue to question and refuse to accept things that I don't like simply because its easier. Change is never easy, but that doesn't make it any less necessary. To end my pep talk for the day: let's care a whole awful lot and start rejecting the status quo! 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2013: Old and New

2013 is the first year since 2009 that I have called one city my place of residence. From this perspective my year seems in line with what I wrote a year ago about how shockingly stable 2013 seemed destined to be. However, 2013 brought visits to approximately seventeen new cities, eleven countries (four of them new), lots of sleeping in different beds, floors, and couches, and loads of new people. But in spite of all the new and unexpected happenings of 2013, it was also filled with lots of old and familiar. Reunions with old friends and family, visits to cities I used to live in, and adventures with old friends. Here is the new and old of 2013:

Old: Celebrating New Years in Chicago with old Valpo friends and jetting off to South Africa and the end of the month to see old friends from Korea and my dad.
New: Presenting a paper at a conference and becoming speechless for the first time at the first audience question (what is circumcision?)

Old: Rendezvous with my dear partner in crime in Korea, Shea, in South Africa. Then the familiarity of admirably dull Botswana with its cows and delightful mountain bike trails. A visit from an old Valpo friend living in Austria.

New: The start of a new quarter of classes and the beginning of football season.

Old: Visit from my best friend Rebecca to run a half marathon. Weekend meeting  in London to see Lindsey my old college roommate.

New: Celebrating my birthday with new friends and reaching a quarter of a century!

Old: Visiting little Altenkirchen Germany for a weekend of crafting and running with Rebecca.

New: Seeing a different side of Germany.

Old: A final visit from Rebecca before she started a new adventure in Rwanda.

New: Experiencing real Greek hospitality in Athens and Crete with my roommate for Greek Orthodox Easter festivities.

Old: Visits from two Valpo friends!
New: Surprise trip to Trondheim, Norway for a lovely week of couchsurfing!

Old: Seeing old friends and family in Washington DC, Boston, and Ann Arbor.
New: Getting my first academic paper published and presenting at a conference. Hitchhiking adventures to Paris with new friends.

Old: Saying goodbye to a house that I've spent the longest time in. Two weeks in an old city--Munich--for new adventures.
New: The start of Climate KIC  summer school and meeting some of the most wonderful people in the world.

Old: Spontaneous day trip to Brussels to visit a dear Korean flight attendant friend.

New: Saying goodbye to my amazing new Climate KIC friends. Writing a business plan. Giving a pitch for our business idea.

Old: Visiting a friend in Freiburg with a stop on the way back in dear old Darmstadt where some of my first travel adventures began and this blog was birthed.

New: Spending a week on a boat with interesting new people learning more about sustainability.

Old: Reunion with summer friends in Budapest. The start of a lovely visit from my favorite mother.
New: Travels to new cities: Budapest, Tunis, Gent, Maastricht.

Old: Conclusion of my mother's visit and the start of utter insanity.
New: Christmas in Vienna and skiing in Obertaurern.

I think the most important thing that 2013 brought was the acceptance that my life journey is different, just like everyone's is slightly different. Instead of constantly pondering and in some respect seeking stability, I realized this summer that when I strip away what everyone else is doing and stop comparing myself to them, I'm pretty content in my nomadic life. Maybe its not typical to move so frequently and travel like its my job, but I like it. People and places flit in and out of life and I realized that's okay. Saying goodbye is always hard but just because its hard doesn't mean I should avoid it since even when living in one place people come and go. However, I also realize that I've neglected to keep in touch with dear people this summer and fall and I hope I can remedy that in 2014. So here's to 2014: a year where I hope I can fully embrace instability, moving, new and old faces and places, the thrill of exploring a new place, learning and growing.